Every day, Aidan Reed, a five-year-old with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, finds time between his chemotherapy treatments, painful spinal taps and oncologist checkups for his favorite hobby: drawing pictures of monsters.
"Drawing monsters was his second favorite hobby before he got sick," Aidan's dad, Wylie Reed, told Huffpost. "His first hobby was dressing up in costumes and acting out whatever character he was dressed as. But he's a little more lethargic now from the chemo and all the treatments, so he just keeps up with the drawings."
Aidan's aunt Mandi, 26, was frustrated by the fact that she couldn't be with her nephew's family in their hometown of Clearwater, Kansas, to offer comfort when the leukemia was diagnosed, so she came up with an idea to help from afar: She would turn Aidan's colorful monster drawings into frameable prints, sell them on Etsy, and donate the proceeds to Aidan's parents for help with his treatments.
On Sept.17, nearly a week after Aidan found out he had leukemia, Mandi sold his first print on Etsy, and the business quickly took off. In less than a week, Mandi had sold about 2,000 of Aidan's prints.
"My lucky number was 60. I just wanted to sell 60 prints," she told MSNBC. "And now here we are at 2,460. ... I have two printers constantly going in my dining room. In between taking care of my baby, I've been trying to fill orders."
At $12 apiece, minus taxes and the cost of materials, Wylie Reed estimates that Aidan's paintings have earned about $50,000 for the family so far, although they haven't collected any of the money yet because they aren't sure how the proceeds will be taxed. The money will be crucial toward helping them keep up with Aidan's treatments, because even though the Reeds are covered through Wylie's insurance plan, the cost of co-pays, wage losses from taking time off work, and the the expenses of Aidan's new-born baby brother are difficult to keep up with on a single income.
Aidan's mother, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when Aidan was diagnosed with leukemia in September, had recently quit her job waiting tables at a bowling alley so that she could stay at home with Aidan and the new baby. Wylie said the family saved, budgeted and planned all year to have enough money to survive on his single income as an on-the-job trainer for Cessna, but Aidan's sickness quickly drained all their savings and threw off the plan.
"I've had to take family medical leave because my wife has a newborn, and she can't stay in the hospital with an infant for a week at a time when Aidan has an infection," he told HuffPost. "The most I could possibly lose would be 12 weeks each year, which is 25 percent of my income. Everybody can understand what it feels like to lose a quarter of your income. My sister's help is gonna be able to replenish the savings we lost, help with deductibles, pay for whatever my portion of the oncologists costs will be, and help reimburse all the lost wages."
After a recent infection surrounding an intravenous line into his heart, Aidan is now carrying a backpack around filled with antibiotics that flow through a line into his bloodstream. Knowing how uncomfortable his son is all the time, Reed says he would not consider letting his son go through any of these procedures alone, even if it means losing a quarter of all his wages for the year.
"I can't let him experience a spinal tap on his own without me being there to hold his hand and talk him through it," he said. "Aidan will ask me what they're doing and why they're doing it, a series of eight to ten questions usually. Then when they're done, he asks me those same questions all over again. That's kind of his coping mechanism, along with the monster drawings."
Fortunately, the Reeds have received the good news that Aidan's particular form of leukemia is 90 percent curable, so the main thing they have to be concerned with is continuing to pay for his treatments and keeping him as comfortable as possible throughout the process. Without Mandi's help and the support of the whole Etsy community, Reed says he doesn't know how he would have made it through this trying ordeal.
"You know, I didn't always have the best attitude towards people and human nature," he said. "I was kind of jaded. This has completely and totally changed the way I think about people. I feel like half the world has stepped up to back up my son. It's just overwhelming -- it's a game changer, and I don't think I'll ever be the same."
Reed said Aidan thinks it's "really cool" that people are buying his drawings. "He understands that strangers are interested in helping him and sending him a lot of stuff from their hearts, like signed photos of famous people, so he understands how great that is, but I don't think he fully understands that this doesn't happen to everyone."
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